Federal, state execs push for blockchain expansion

As blockchain technology continues to mature, some government leaders are calling for interoperable blockchain solutions from industry that can address various agency needs.

Representatives from the State Department, IRS and Illinois Blockchain Initiative spoke at the  March 8 D.C. Blockchain Summit about what they are looking to see the in blockchain space.

“There are going to be a lot of different players,” Kaveh Abtahi, section chief of Enterprise Architecture and Design at the IRS, said.  “Interoperability is going to be huge.”

The IRS has not developed any formal use cases or proofs of concept for operational blockchain applications, but the agency is keeping an eye on the work of digital standards organizations like the World Wide Web Consortium and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

The State Department wants private-sector help using  blockchain as part of a solution to solve refugee identity issues.  John Jordan, deputy director of the Refugee Processing Center for State’s Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration, said public-private partnerships provide the best way to work at scale. “There is a scalability issue from a business process and the policy side,” he said. 

The State Department is also looking for proposals that develop and pilot a blockchain solution for worker-rights challenges, such as non-payment or under-payment of wages, withholding of identity documents, reporting violations, access to remedy and lack of transparency in supply chains.

According to a Feb. 26 notice of funding opportunity, State's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor anticipates awarding $500,000 to a single project to start this summer. Applications are due on April 13.

When it comes to human rights, “we are looking at industry to help drive our use case.” Jordan said.  “The scalability of standards and how to apply them to our mission creates challenges because we don’t have a clean environment where can control everything.”

The Illinois Blockchain Initiative has been working on five blockchain application pilots.  Work has already been completed on with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds that consolidates property information spread across multiple government offices into one place.  And the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation worked with Hashed Health on a blockchain-based health-provider registry that streamlined licensure and credentialing information sharing about health care workers.

Blockchain could be used to keep information on autonomous vehicles and public safety in a public record, IBI Business Liaison Jennifer O’Rourke said. 

She called for “horizontal” work on blockchain that crosses health care, finance and other sectors.  “We need to determine the challenges with identity in private and public protocols,” O’Rourke said.  “The first step is to begin these explorations and find [an] opportunity that cuts across your departments in a concrete way.”

“We want to make sure that we can leverage all of the learnings in the identity space that have already happened,” she said.  “We have a slightly smaller jurisdictional purview than our federal partners, so it is easier to work with industry.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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